World Tarot Congress, July 2-4, 1999

    Report by Diane Wilkes

I started to "Tarot on*" early, because Tom Tadfor Little announced on his e-list, Tarot Cards, that he would be in Philadelphia, which is very near where I live. We arranged to meet on Thursday, July 1st, and spent a little over an hour chatting about Tarot. I showed him some of my most prized rare decks, and we did readings for one another with Arnell Ando’s Transformational Tarot. I was a bit apprehensive about my presentation, but the cards in the reading he did for me (a variation of his famed Elemental Spread) were quite comforting, even encouraging. It was fun to see the differences and similarities in our approaches to readings. Tom’s combining of various elements and cards was impressive, especially since it was the first time he had read with with Transformational Tarot.

Friday, I awakened late, and had to rush to the train station to meet Michele Jackson. This was quite disconcerting, but by the time we reached the airport I was more relaxed--and delighted to run into Tom again at the airport. We were on the same plane! More Tarot chat ensued, needless to say.

its1.jpg (10989 bytes)We got to the hotel barely in time to register and go to Caitlin Matthews’ three hour intensive workshop. We ended up in the back of a LARGE room and it was hard to hear. After doing the first exercise (Finding A Tarot Teacher spread), I realized it would be impossible for me to enter into the spirit of the meditations in that particular setting, so I left during a moment that wouldn’t disturb anyone else. I did get something from it--my Tarot Teacher was the Wheel of Fortune (Karma in Arnell Ando’s Transformational Tarot) and I worked with both the individual swinging onto the snake spiral, and the snake him/herself. You should have seen us slithering up to the other cards in the spread--it was quite the scene. I heard from others (who were closer to the front) that it was an amazing and enlightening workshop.

Once outside, where could I go but the vendor room? One table, manned by Julie Cuccia-Watts and her mate, had been at the last conference. At that time, I bought a magnificent velvet bag with Julie’s exquisitely hand-done stitchwork. It is a prized possession. Arnell Ando, my partner in crime and the Storyteller Tarot (not necessarily in that order) had purchased a velvet bag lined with a multi-colored material that she called her "magic bag." Michele Jackson found a similar one and bought it before I had a chance to finger my way there--but every cloud has (pardon the pun) a silken lining. Julie allowed me to order one, and mine will have purple flowers (my favorite) on the outside. I like getting things a bit after the conference ends--it keeps the magic present a bit longer.

Other vendors had some rare and out-of-print decks. The New Zealand contingent had a table with the rare Songs For the Journey Home Tarot Deck/Book set and lovely bags with a round card patch (the deck is round) sewn into it. They also had notecards from that deck, as well as some lovely Tarot t-shirts. U.S. Games had a table that sold some new decks (Phantasmagoric and Winged Spirit), as well as the expected fare. Other vendors sold clothing (one particularly flattering, but expensive dress that came in many colors and patterned material was seen on numerous women attending the Saturday evening banquet), aura photographs, Tarot software, etc. It was a room I returned to again and again, unfortunately for my pocketbook.

The opening ceremonies were held Friday night, and after a pleasant supper at the hotel restaurant with such fun folk asits2.jpg (19209 bytes) Holly Voley, Janey Laird, and other delightful members of the Utah contingency, plus the inimitable Bunny Bob, I toddled into the banquet room to see beautiful and rare Tarot artifacts in the front--Stuart Kaplan had brought them from his immense collection. He gave the keynote speech, with Mary K. Greer and Geraldine Amaral (Tarot Celebrations) lighting candles as Mr. Kaplan (I can’t possibly call him Stuart) while he recited the names of his Tarot influences. After each name, a U.S. Games employee whose name escapes me just now would chime a bell. Sometimes his timing was off, which made the presentation particularly endearing, as did Kaplan’s unmistakable New Yawk accent. He won the "Star" award, and the ever-scintillating Thalassa won a well-deserved "Pamela Colman Smith" award for the unsung hero/ine, someone who has done a great deal for the Tarot community, but not necessarily getting recognition for it. Thalassa has kept the biannual San Francisco/Bay Area Tarot Symposia (SFBATS) alive long before the WTC was conceived, and that is definitely worthy of many awards. Somehow, though, Thalassa is too high energy for me to think of her as an unsung heroine. I can hear her singing siren songs with the panache and style of Rosalind Russell in Gypsy. But that’s a whole ‘nother story for a whole ‘nother write-up.

After the opening ceremonies, I happened upon many a Tarot-l-er near the Atrium imbibing and chatting freely. Holly Voley gave me a Tarot reading, and I joined other revellers in an abbreviated (but nonetheless salacious) version of "Hey, Big Spender." To me, the best part of these events is the chat, Tarot-related and otherwise, that naturally springs up between attendees. This may sound a bit snide, but in my day-to-day life I don’t always have constant contact with witty, enlightened, and erudite folk. An extrovert like myself seems like an introvert to most people, because I keep to myself rather than be constantly misunderstood and self-censoring ("If I say ‘Goddess bless,’ is someone going to stone me in the public square?"). At Tarot gatherings I feel free to smile at strangers, knowing they won’t remain strangers long. And I’ll actually be glad about this. No one puts on airs ("I am a presenter--bow down now and fetch me a drink for every book I’ve written."). People not only talk compellingly, they actively listen and respond. You can use three-syllable words in conversation without hesitation. They use four syllable words (as well as the occasional four letter ones). It’s a pleasure.

Can you tell I enjoy myself at these events?

Despite the quality of conversation, Arnell and I had to practice for our Saturday afternoon talk. She lives in California and I live in Pennsylvania, so this was our only opportunity to mesh our presentations into a cohesive whole. Despite frequent phone calls and ICQ chats, I never get enough of talking to Arnell. And, since I was meeting her husband Mike for the first time, it took us about an hour before we even looked at our presentation notes. I also got first peek at Arnell’s for-sale artwork and bought several pieces (my life goal is to have the best Arnell Ando collection on the east coast and loan it to the Met for a very limited engagement).

Then, the arms of Morpheus called too insistently for me to refuse, so after exchanging readings with Michele, I went to sleep. Morning brought cold reality to my warmly-lit heart--I had to pick up the Ace of Swords (Thoth) and cut to the bone marrow. I had to make a choice as to which of the four wonderful workshops I was going to attend during each timeslot--so I had to slice ruthlessly again and again, and there was no way to avoid pain each time (Schedule of Speakers).

My first cut was the deepest (with apologies to Rod Stewart)...I had to choose between Geraldine Amaral, whose workshops I always enjoy, and "Bunny" Bob O’Neill’s talk on the Waite/Smith trumps. I’ve heard him present before, also, and though I am no Tarot historian, I find his talks not only informative, but fascinating. No sleeping in Bob’s workshops. I would have loved to have heard Cynthia Giles or Marcia Masino (make that Cynthia Giles and Marcia Masino--I’d love to have seen both of them!). its4.jpg (13580 bytes)

The Ace of Swords and I landed in Geraldine’s workshop. She correlated Maslow’s steps of self-actualization to the Tarot archetypes, and while she had scads of intellectual content, her great strength as a teacher is her creative approach to Tarot. Something special occured during this workshop that set the tone for me for the whole weekend. Geraldine asked us to use a deck with which we weren’t very familiar, because she wanted our intuition to be dominant over our rationality and tendency to analyze. The only deck I had with me was Arnell’s Transformational Tarot (the reason I keep saying "Arnell’s" Transformational Tarot is because there are two decks with the name, not because I want to drive anyone crazy), and I know that deck intimately. The woman next to me had Taviglione’s Tarot Delle Stelle, which I don’t have and am not very familiar with, so I asked her to switch (knowing she didn’t have Transformational Tarot); she refused, because "I bought this deck because I am not familiar with it." I understood her hesitation--when I buy a new deck for a workshop, I want to use it then so I can bring the memory of the experience home with me. Still and all, it left me in a bad position--and she said it in a snooty way, too.

I turned around and saw Sara Williams’ lovely daughter (also named Sara) using Songs for the Journey Home, a deck I have but never used before. Those of you on Tarot-l know Sara Williams as the heart of the list: her posts are both uniquely insightful and utterly charming. In fact, Tapestry editor Crystal Sage likes her posts so much, she has given Sara her own column. Anyway, back to Sara’s kind daughter: she traded her deck for mine. We both got wonderful and powerful readings using Geraldine’s three card spread, Sara decided she had to have a copy of Transformational Tarot, and the woman next to me chose the 9 and ten of Swords and the Tower. I love karma, don’t you?


its5.jpg (18806 bytes)Lest I sound like an all-wise (and wise-ass) High Priestess, a red-orange-haired woman came up to me and greeted me with a friendly hello. I looked at her, stymied. It was the talented and charming Sarah Ovenall, creatrix of the beautiful black and white Victoria Regina Tarot Deck. I met her when her hair was blue, but is that an excuse for not recognizing her soul? Still, I was delighted to see her and she says that my look of amazement when I realized who she was was more entertaining than annoying. The hair color is an improvement, by the way--it gives her face a lovely roseate glow.

Next workshop: Mary Greer’s magical presentation on "The Magic of Tarot." I didn’t need the Ace of Swords for this one, because, no matter how many workshops I’ve attended given by Mary, I always feel that I will get more out of a few words from her than volumes from anyone else. Her scholarship and knowledge, combined with an always-innovative approach to Tarot, is a gift to all. Her ritual connected Golden Dawn tradition with spontaneous magic and deep psychological understanding. One way in which she maintained focus and a spiritual atmosphere was to assure attendees that a handout covering everything she was telling us would be provided after the ritual. She was as good as her word, including a comprehensive outline for ritual. The experiential portion of the workshop was powerful and life-changing; I suspect everyone who attended will also remember that a reading cloth and a Tarot deck provide a travelling altar for on-the-spot rituals.

Arnell and I had the after-lunch spot, but our attendees were polite and attentive. No one treated our workshop, "Creating Your Own Tarot Deck and Book," as a siesta, for which I was grateful. Actually, I was grateful we had attendees, period, as we were not only presenting at the same time as keynote speaker Stuart Kaplan, who had hundreds of photographic slides of Tarot cards from his personal collection (only the largest in the world), but James Wanless, whose popularity and reputation are about as immense as Kaplan’s collection. Afterwards, we sat in the hall selling the last of our Storyteller decks, as well as Arnell’s Transformational Tarot and Heroine’s Journey Tarot (yes, she’s done the art for three decks; yes, her artistic output is nothing short of phenomenal), so I missed most of Michele Jackson’s talk on "Tarot on the Internet." However, I was able to catch enough of it to see Stuart Kaplan scribbling frantically to catch every jewel from her lips (why do I think she’s going to censor this part of my write-up?). Her innate modesty will prevent me from going into further detail, but she not only covered the web as Tarot resource, as only the webmistress of Michele’s Tarot Page could, she taught the ins and outs of running a successful web site with great generosity of spirit. I’ll stop now.its6.jpg (17111 bytes)

It seemed too short a time before I had to look presentable for the banquet (and it takes a lot longer than it used to). Many dressed as one of the 22 Major Arcana cards, but preparing for my presentation took every last vestige of time and creativity that I possessed. However, seeing Brian Williams as a western devil (he made the outfit himself, and for fun, ask him what the jacket originally looked like) and Corinne Kenner and her friend who together looked like a lovely storybook Two of Cups out of the Renaissance period (except that they were sparkling clean, the shower being a 20th century innovation) was worth the price of admission. Speaking of Corinne, whose creativity and generosity are equally bounteous, she created an Edible Tarot, a unique deck where each card correlates to a given recipe and gave this "party favor"--wrapped in a cloth bag--to many lucky workshop participants. Speaking of edible, you know how hotel banquets are always bland at best and poisonous at worst? Well, everyone I heard kept exclaiming about the delicious food--and there was even a vegetarian entree for the purest new-agers (this little Jewess ate pork).

The evening’s entertainment was...entertaining. Each of the Majors had their own song to sing ("I am Woman" for the Empress, "Lady Madonna" for the High Priestess), and some gutsy folk performed solo. Special kudos go to Christine Payne-Towler for singing a spirited and sultry version of "Son of a Preacher Man" (she was the Hierophant), and Janet Berres, President of the International Tarot Society, who hosted this phenomenal conference and each event with humor, charm and endless vitality. She urged on reluctant singers with unflagging energy--although she was dressed as a High Priestess, she impressively fulfilled the role of the Queen of Wands. One woman, Stephanie O'Hara, sang an Irish song with the most beautiful voice that she "stood me still," in the words of Nanci Griffith. Her voice was unbelievably pure and clear, and it was amazing to watch the loud gathering become completely quiet and attentive. Ruth Ann Brauser (co-founder of the Tarot School) sang a song she wrote about the Empress. She reminded me a bit of Laura Nyro, one of my favorite artists--she had a stillness and intensity that was reminiscent of Nyro in concert. And they both played piano and have long dark hair, to complete the image.

its3.jpg (18382 bytes)However, the standout musical highlight came after the banquet. I was chatting with numerous revellers in the lobby when Mike McAteer played the role of Pied Piper, leading all us kiddies to a quiet section of the hotel, where d.t. king and Julie Luker were playing recorders and making beautiful music together. D.t. king’s face shone like he was in an earthly paradise (how very Pagan) and the Celtic music had the effect of bringing a joyous serenity to the gathering.

Sunday morning came, as it always seems to do. I was unable to make the first workshop, but stumbled into Brian Williams’ Transgendered Trumps presentation. His shared with everyone the original artwork for his beautiful Minchiate cards, and entertained everyone with his wit and charm. Everyone is in for a treat when this deck comes out. Those who know that originally his publishers were going to release a poorly-colored version of his deck should know that they saw the light (that’s a pun--his colors are softer than the ones they originally and mistakenly came up with).

I had to draw my Ace of Swords for the last workshop selection, but since I was using Thoth, I ultimately had to attend Lon Milo Duquette’s extremely entertaining, "My Life with the Spirits of Tarot." His sense of humor leads you to forget that you are absorbing extremely complex information--you laugh and learn at the same time. It’s a neat trick, and one that you are sure to encounter if you ever have the good fortune to attend one of Lon’s workshops. In keeping with the tradition of the last time I attended one of his workshops, his books sold out and I prevailed upon him to sign his working copy over to me. That he did so with graciousness is all you need to know about Stonehenge Equinox...I mean, Lon.

Immediately following the last workshop were the closing ceremonies, with Chic and Tabatha Cicero leading a Tree of Life walk that teaches the paths of Kabbalah in a visceral fashion. This was appropriate, as many of the workshops combined experiental exercises with the dispensation of sometimes-complex information.

The well-worn tradition of the Tarot-l pizza party showed the flexibility of Tarot people all around the globe. This gathering, in its second year!, was held in the snack shop in the hotel (since we weren’t in walking distance of a pizzeria) and Tarot-l and Tarot-l-to-be individuals all ate and chat and ate and chat. Like the last Tarot-l gathering, everyone seemed to have a lot of fun--I know I did.

Monday morning, I was fortunate enough to breakfast with d.t. king and Linda Gail Waters and have some last Tarot-l moments before Michele and I boarded the shuttle to our date with destiny, aka American Airlines. My luggage was considerably heavier going than coming, despite the books and handouts I brought being long-gone. And I still have some decks being sent to me, which keeps the conference present a bit longer, even in Pennsylvania.

Some of my regrets: the new deck room had so many decks I wanted to ooh and ahh over, but if I did, I’d have missed workshops each time. I wasn’t an amoeba and couldn’t divide myself into enough parts to attend every workshop. Chicago was unbearably hot and the halls weren’t air-conditioned--causing me to be rather stern with a hotel operator whose grasp of spelling exceeded my patience (and Janey Laird heard it all). My husband wasn’t there to talk computers with Arnell’s husband, Mike, and meet all the great people he hears about so often.

But my memories are mostly pleasant ones. Getting to meet Asrianna Dameron and experience the gifts of a real shaman (I never quite believed they existed before, except as trickster coyotes). Seeing old friends and making new ones, and getting to know people like Holly Voley and Kim Danbert a bit better than I did before. Janey Laird is a firecracker-- how perfect for a July 4th event. Seeing Melanie Oelerich as the Strength lion--does she have the mane for the role. And, oh, it was special to meet Tom Tadfor Little, since I am a member of his secret fan club (right now I’m the only acknowledged member--anyone else want to come out of the closet, so to speak). Plus reuniting with the mother of my Storyteller Child Tarot, Arnell Ando, and meeting her wonderful husband, Mike, who is good enough for her--there are no more positive words than that. Telling the Saras, mere and fille, about the story of each of the Storyteller Majors. Selling the last full-size Storyteller deck to Kel and Jim, secure in the knowledge that it was going to a wonderful home. Planning to buy a "grandmother bag" from Walmart that has slots for photographs. Corinne Kenner came up with the fabulous idea of putting Tarot cards in those slots, and I am not ashamed to "appropriate" her idea. its12.jpg (37573 bytes)

The truth? The workshops are great, but hanging out with Tarot people is like nothing else in this world. We’re a bit eccentric, but if the rest of the world was this creative, funny, fun, warm and wise, life would be perfection. But where would we go for a fix of paradise is life was perfect? I am grateful that the ITS had the vision and courage to risk this field of dreams. They built it and we came--and I, for one, am the better for it.

I don’t even care if I get kicked out from the Dorothy Parker club for my use of superlatives. It was a superlative event.

Diane Wilkes

* "Tarot on" is on the back on the 1997 WTC t-shirt

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All Photos graciously provided by Arnell Ando and Kim Danbert - Thanks!

Copyright 1999 Diane Wilkes